Mahabodhi stupa

Spent 8 nights here, the place where Buddha attained enlightenment and where many say is like the spiritual centre of the universe. It is a pretty dynamic spot with remains of Hindu graveyards and monuments, muslim graveyards and loud prayers to allah over the loudspeaker and then each of the Buddhist traditions represented with temples of Thai, Vietnamese, Bangledesh, Japan, Bhutan, Sikim, India and many for each of the Tibetan schools all littered around the great Maha Bodhi stupa. There is a sea of colour with red robed Tibetan monks and nuns, yellow robed Theravaden monks and nuns and then a few wearing white for the pure land sect (mostly Japanese), each singing their chants, sutras and mantras in different styles and language arounding to their culture. All respect each others way and seem to be in harmony with one another.

HH Karmapa Thaye Dorje

So with probably at least a thousand, most in red robes along with around 200 hundred foreigners we sat for the week under the bodhi tree beside the Mahabodhi stupa and sang one famous aspirational wishes text from Manjushi (disciple of the Buddha) along with teachings on the text everyday from Sharmapa. Stupas are said to be special places and to be beside them and doing Kora (cicumabulations) is bringing a lot of merit and where everything in mind becomes stronger so by making alteristic wishes it gives power to steer lifes direction on a meaningful path and helps in losing our clinging to ego or self, ultimately having less problems and taking things less seriously with more capacity to be happy and just be useful for others.

In the mornings and afternoon the monks bought round tea and bread. Together with the two little monks (14 years old) from Dera Dun monestary, we saved up our bread and went and fed the huge catfish in the pond next to the stupa…

As soon as you are out of the gate to the great stupa however there is dirt, dust, pollution, noise, begging and a lot of poverty… there are many charitable organisations doing an excellent job with getting the kids of the street however

not enough desks so the younger ones have to sit on the floor

and one day my French friend (and room mate for the stay) and I hopped on the back of motorbikes with 2 India guys and went off road (through dirt streets in small villages, dodging chickens, kids and goats on the way) to visit one school. There is 150 kids and 5 teachers. The smallest ones sit on a tarp outside and they obediently recited there times tables for us. The next lot have a classroom but only enough desks for half of them, so half were on the floor. Then the oldest ones had another room and all had desks, they sang for us the Indian national anthem and Sophie, a professional singer, sang for them “Amazing Grace”, which was exquisite but they wanted to hear Michael Jackson and we know the words or the have the grooves…

We talked at length to the head teacher, his father donated the land for the school. Their strategy in getting kids off the streets and in to school is by going first to their parents and try their best to convince them that the kids should be in school and comfort them with the fact that it is free, along with food and clothing. However many parents refuse as the kids are bringing home food and money by begging. But after talking to many of the older kids, who told their personal story of being taken off the streets and put into schools when they were 10 was really reassuring, they were educated, well mannered and in turn were doing their best in getting the young kids off the streets.

Then back on the bikes and up the dirt road to some hills where we went to visit one cave where it is said that Buddha spent some time after he had left his royal palace. It was in this area where he was practicing for some years fasting and asceticism. But after some time he realised its futility, that by fasting and mortifying the flesh it will not bring him enlightenment or divine knowledge and walked to Bodhgaya where he sat under the Bodhi tree. Later he taught the Great Middle Way giving one example to a disciple that played a violin (or whatever the old fashioned equivalent was) and explained that the strings cannot be too loose or too tight, they need to be just right in order to play well.